The General Assembly’s Gift to Virginia’s Students

by Matt Hurt

During the 2024 General Assembly session, two bills were introduced which have the potential to provide two additional weeks of uninterrupted learning that Virginia’s students in grades three through eight haven’t had in a few years.  Specifically, HB 1076 and SB 435 are two very concise sister bills which simply intend to allow school divisions the flexibility to administer other assessments in lieu of the through year growth assessments (HB2027/SB1357) that were required by the 2021 General Assembly, so long as the alternative assessments are aligned to Virginia’s Standards of Learning.  Last week HB 1076 passed the House 80-18 and SB 435 made it through the first Senate subcommittee.

The through year growth assessment legislation was certainly well intentioned.  Educators have clamored for years for a process that would demonstrate student growth throughout the school year and to use this measure for accountability purposes.  The problem with this method of determining growth is that there is a great incentive to obtain high scores at the end of the year, and equally great incentive to obtain low scores at the beginning of the year in order to demonstrate high degrees of growth.  This problem was explained in detail here, and the negative unintended consequences yielded were outlined here

Currently, these through year growth assessments disrupt instruction in each elementary and middle school for a week in the fall and another week in the winter.  While these assessments take a little less time to administer than the end-of-year SOL test, the entire process still takes a significant amount of time.  For example, many students with disabilities require testing accommodations such as small group or one-on-one testing, having the test read aloud, etc., all of which requires teachers to spend extra time testing that they would normally spend instructing students.  Classroom teachers, special education teachers, intervention teachers, instructional aides, etc. are all pressed into service to help with testing, and this limits the amount of time that they work with students.

Besides the loss of two weeks of instructional time, the results of the through year growth assessments are not found to be useful by teachers and administrators.  First, there are no incentives in place to ensure that students try their best, as these tests have no high stakes either for the student or the school.  Second, the fall assessment assesses the same content from the previous spring’s SOL test. In other words, the fall assessment duplicates efforts to yield less reliable data than the results from the previous year.  Third, the mid-year assessment does not fully assess what has been taught, and it also assesses content that has not yet been taught.  Assessing students on content that has not been taught yields nothing more than wasted time that would have been better used by providing instruction.

If this legislation is signed into law, school divisions will be provided the flexibility to use other assessments in lieu of the through year growth assessments so long as those assessments are aligned to Virginia’s Standards of Learning.  Some divisions used to administer assessments that were valued for the reliable data provided, which helped guide their instructional efforts, but eliminated those assessments in order to give back some instructional time to teachers.  Other divisions continued to administer their previous assessments in order to attain actionable data to help their students.

It is curious to note that these bills only provide relief to Virginia’s students and educators during the 2024-2025 school year.  This may be due to the fact that the Board of Education is in the process of revising the school accountability system, and legislators may wish to see how that plays out before making long- term decisions.  The Board has discussed utilizing the VVAAS system to determine growth, and this system doesn’t use the through year growth assessments, thus rendering these tests devoid of their original purpose.

Matt Hurt is director of the Comprehensive Instructional Program.

The Comprehensive Instructional Program is a consortium of sixty-two public school divisions that work together to improve outcomes for students.  This consortium was founded in 2014 by the superintendents in Virginia’s Superintendents Region VII, which includes the nineteen divisions in far southwest Virginia.  Since the founding of the CIP, educators in Region VII have leveraged their collective efforts to produce the best Standards of Learning pass rates among all regions in Virginia since 2017.


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39 responses to “The General Assembly’s Gift to Virginia’s Students”

  1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Let’s hope someday politics gets out of the business of education. We can always dream.

    It appears we constantly kick ourselves in the shin.

    Why test a kid on something not taught. For that matter, why test a learning disabled youth two grade levels behind on his grade level. If he is reading at a fifth grade level and is in seventh grade, why test him at seventh grade to assure him he is learning disabled and behind?

    1. Charles Pyle Avatar
      Charles Pyle

      And the ironic thing is that these proposals come from superintendents and legislators who complain about too much testing.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    A better gift to student learning would have been the adoption of a 200 day school year calendar.

    1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      You are very correct. The cost would be higher. How much can you shove into 180 days?

    2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      You are very correct. The cost would be higher. How much can you shove into 180 days?

      1. Maybe split the difference and go with 190 days?

        The ten extra days will help gain back the instruction time lost to beginning and middle of year testing.

        1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
          Kathleen Smith

          They need 200+. An impact statement for any education bill or Board action should require the amount of instructional time loss or administrative time required.

          1. Thank you. I defer to your knowledge and experience. You know a lot more about this issue than I.

  3. The problem with this method of determining growth is that there is a great incentive to obtain high scores at the end of the year, and equally great incentives to obtain low scores at the end of the year in order to demonstrate high degrees of growth.

    Did you mean “…incentives to obtain low scores at the beginning of the year”?

    1. Charles Pyle Avatar
      Charles Pyle

      I think he did. Matt has made this point directly to the state Board of Education regarding through-year growth assessments.

    2. Matt Hurt Avatar

      Yes sir, please forgive my lack of attention in my editing process.

      1. No worries.

        Great article, by the way – as usual.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    I see Mr. Hurt and Mr. Pyle commenting on a more frequent basis. This is a very good thing if it could continue. Thank you!

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    The premise seems to be that only one teacher will teach the kid the whole year and therefor able to hold that one teacher accountable.

    It apparently does not address the idea that other teachers like Title 1 specialists might be involved.

    Also – if a kid begins first grade already behind, gains a full year but at the end is still behind…

    Finally, in a school with economically disadvantaged students who typically are a bigger challenge than kids with higher income, higher educated parents, What teacher is going to take those position if they can find another position without such challenges?

    I’m not arguing against the proposal per se but if you’re gonna do this , it’s more to it than the simplistic concept.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    If the premise is that teachers will be held accountable for how much a child advances for the year and teachers have a choice
    of where to teach and can choose a school that has mostly on grade performance verses a school with a lot of economically disadvantaged kids and low performing scores, why would a
    teacher choose to teach at the low scoring school?

    Where would low performing schools find teachers willing to
    teach at that school if they likely would be held “accountable” for the low scores in their class?

    The ways that schools are set up, there is not only no incentive for teaching low performing kids, there are significant threats to their career if they are determined to “fail” at teaching how-to-teach kids.

    In order to set up an accountability system that actually “works”, it would have to take into account more than just that one teacher or most teachers who have choices will totally run away from some situations and flee to schools with easier-to-teach kids.

    The entire premise of this idea seems to emanate from the idea that it’s the teacher that is causing the failures and this approach will “weed out” the poor teachers. But where will the GOOD teachers come from to replace them if they perceive it as a potential scapegoating threat to their careers?

    In a rural area, there may not be choices other than to just not teach as an occupation if it looks bad. In more urbanized areas, where teachers actually teach in jurisdictions other than where they live – they have choices, not only with respect to salary but also with respect to the difficulty of the task in the classroom. FOr schools that are low performing and have high concentrations of economically disadvantaged kids, and
    requirements that the kids advance a year or you could be
    sanctioned or fired… many who have choices, won’t choose that one.

    1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      Larry, you have just described a complex problem. One decision to do X can result in many kinds of fall-out problems. None me seems to think through legislation nor its impact. Suddenly, a good idea becomes a bad idea.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Kathleen, I know about a dozen teachers and so I get some insight to how they think and one of the issues
        is what they do if they are in a school that has issues and makes things hard for them. It could be a number of
        things including a bad principal. But one of the options is to find another school either in the same district or
        another jurisdiction. It doesn’t mean nirvana because the new employers are going to want to know why the
        change and can communicate with the folks at your current school and they can have the opportunity to badmouth or not so the reasons given for leaving can be ones that don’t assign blame but speak of other factors not having to do
        with the current situation so as to maintain a decent employment record from current supervisors. BUt I can see if a new law puts in on teachers individually as to the performance of the students, they’re not going to go down in flames if they are in a bad situation (with a lot of low scoring economically disadvantaged kids and they’re gonna get the blame, they’re gonna bail in short order and try to find another situation without such dire circumstances. Teachers, in general, despite all the talk about “unions”, pretty much do what the principal wants if they expect to stay there no matter if
        the principal is good or not good – you do what he/she wants or you get out of dodge. The principle operating with a law that targets the teachers for performance issues has even more latitude and less accountability and an ability to misuse that rule to move teachers around and/or assign kids to them such that bad stuff can happen to a teacher that the principal is not fond of and wants gone. When this happens, it can “follow” that teacher to another school they might want to work at and they may become not employable at other schools in the district or even others depending on what the original principal had to say.

        THis is one of those places where voters may have overly simplistic ideas of accountability and legislators who are not teachers or hearing from teachers , fail to understand the consequences, included unintended.

        I support the idea of accountability for everyone including the principal AND the administrators but there
        needs to be clear standards for all so that teachers don’t end up at the short end of the stick and scapegoated while
        folks further up the food chain are not held accountable or much less so.

        I keep mentioning school districts like Henrico (as opposed to Richmond or Petersburg) because Henrico has
        some of the best performing k-12 in the state. THey also have some of the worst performing. And the obvious
        question is why. Do they have poorly performing elementary schools because of poor performing teachers?

        Do the same schools perform poorly year after year even after there is turnover of staff? Why?

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        Kathleen, I know about a dozen teachers and so I get some insight to how they think and one of the issues
        is what they do if they are in a school that has issues and makes things hard for them. It could be a number of
        things including a bad principal. But one of the options is to find another school either in the same district or
        another jurisdiction. It doesn’t mean nirvana because the new employers are going to want to know why the
        change and can communicate with the folks at your current school and they can have the opportunity to badmouth or not so the reasons given for leaving can be ones that don’t assign blame but speak of other factors not having to do
        with the current situation so as to maintain a decent employment record from current supervisors. BUt I can see if a new law puts in on teachers individually as to the performance of the students, they’re not going to go down in flames if they are in a bad situation (with a lot of low scoring economically disadvantaged kids and they’re gonna get the blame, they’re gonna bail in short order and try to find another situation without such dire circumstances. Teachers, in general, despite all the talk about “unions”, pretty much do what the principal wants if they expect to stay there no matter if
        the principal is good or not good – you do what he/she wants or you get out of dodge. The principle operating with a law that targets the teachers for performance issues has even more latitude and less accountability and an ability to misuse that rule to move teachers around and/or assign kids to them such that bad stuff can happen to a teacher that the principal is not fond of and wants gone. When this happens, it can “follow” that teacher to another school they might want to work at and they may become not employable at other schools in the district or even others depending on what the original principal had to say.

        THis is one of those places where voters may have overly simplistic ideas of accountability and legislators who are not teachers or hearing from teachers , fail to understand the consequences, included unintended.

        I support the idea of accountability for everyone including the principal AND the administrators but there
        needs to be clear standards for all so that teachers don’t end up at the short end of the stick and scapegoated while
        folks further up the food chain are not held accountable or much less so.

        I keep mentioning school districts like Henrico (as opposed to Richmond or Petersburg) because Henrico has
        some of the best performing k-12 in the state. THey also have some of the worst performing. And the obvious
        question is why. Do they have poorly performing elementary schools because of poor performing teachers?

        Do the same schools perform poorly year after year even after there is turnover of staff? Why?

        1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
          Kathleen Smith

          In Henrico, the poverty in the East end leaves its brutal mark. My experience there when at VDOE tells me it is a complex problem. Teacher turnover, student mobility, poverty, etc. Beating up the school isn’t a good solution. These kind of schools have had many, many, many reform efforts and money. Maybe we need to rethink education for the children in those schools.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Kathleen, do you mean the schools that border Richmond? It seems those schools for years and years, and many staff changes, continue to be low performing schools similar to schools just over the border and in Richmond. At the same time, other elementary schools in the county away from the border from Richmond have been and continue to be high performing schools. Other than geography, would it be wrong or right to say that the staff in the underperforming schools is the reason they are underperforming and the staff in the well-performing schools is the reason they are performing well? Why would the same schools near the border with Richmond continue to be staffed with underperforming staff and the better performing schools staffed with higher performing staff? Does the level of the educational proficiency and economic status have anything to do with it or is it purely the teachers, good performing in some schools and lower performing in the schools that border Richmond?

          2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            I don’t think it would be fair to say that the low performing schools do not have good staff. They may be young staff or new teachers. It also could be that poverty has become it these kids so far behind, they might not catch up until 6th or 7th. Grade or not so all. It could also be that many have disabilities. Worked with a school, MLK Middle, had almost 40% of students with disabilities. It could be high teacher turnover. Or it could be all af the above.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            I agree.

            Schools with significant numbers of economically disadvantaged kids have a much harder job and even in a county like Henrico, apparently not enough additional resources are provided to help those kids do better.

            Poverty plays a significant
            role and it does get expressed in the geography of low performing school districts – that align with economically depressed neighborhoods.

            A rule to hold teachers “accountable” for one year of academic progress in the low
            performing schools will end up with teachers leaving and others not replacing them.

            It’s a simplistic idea that is ignorant of the realities, IMO.

            If we are truly serious, then we need more than simplistic ideas on dealing with the issue, again IMO.

          4. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            Problem in holding accountable for one year of growth may never catch a kid two grade levels behind.

          5. LarrytheG Avatar

            If they gain a year and still behind, teacher has accomplished the intent of the law?

          6. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            Yep. Kid is still one year behind. The problem is that most kids fall farther and farther behind. So in 3rd grade, they may be two years behind, but by 8th, even with growth, they are three years behind. Any reading teacher worth her salt knows that kids in poverty lack vocabulary and thus lack comprehension. As vocabulary becomes more plentiful and more difficult, the kid just succumbs to being too far behind to reasonably expect to catch up. He enters high school and drops out by grade 11.

          7. LarrytheG Avatar

            so that means a 3rd grade teacher has to teach 2nd grade material to get them their year gained….In effect, they’re a grade back just not officially and formally so.

            Seems to me, a better approach would be to identify the kids that are behind and get them into a remedial track that does not threaten or penalize teachers who are trying to get them remediated in a regular classroom, or else most teachers and staff will know they have become targets for adverse actions.

            Approaches in law for holding teachers accountable for student progress that do not recognize the issues involving kids who are behind (perhaps from pre-K or K) won’t fix the problem and it WILL scare away the very staff that is needed.

            I won’t say there is no such thing as a poor teacher who needs to find other things to do to make a living but the vast majority of them work very hard to do their job. Anyone who knows a teacher, knows all the other non-teaching types of things they have to put up with to do their jobs especially in schools with large numbers of economically disadvantaged kids. Para-professionals are extra cost but can be worth their weight in gold and the right job for folks that don’t have the training needed for the primary teacher role.

          8. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            Education is not cheap. You get what you pay for.

          9. LarrytheG Avatar

            Charters can fix this, right? 😉

          10. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            I will say, accrediting a public charter company in Ohio and Indiana taught me a lot.

            There are good charter organizations out there. There are also bad charter organizations out there.

            Management makes the difference. Just like group homes for the challenged, some owners really care and some don’t. I have three on my street. Two are good, one is not, in fact, it just closed. Owner has a jazzed up orange and yellow mustang with a very loud engine.

          11. LarrytheG Avatar

            Charters for average kids that are not economically disadvantaged, versus Charters that specialize in dealing with economically disadvantaged kids AND are successful at it. I have no problem with the latter, given the track record
            and failure of public schools (like Henrico and others) in dealing with economically disadvantaged kids. If such a thing was real, like for instance, a “lab” school that targeted kids in Richmond or Petersburg of just the poor performing
            schools in Henrico , I’m on board with it. But Charters that are not designed specifically for economically disadvantaged kids, that are, instead, aimed at kids currently enrolled in good performing school and are on grade level,
            those charters will just be duplicating what public schools do , and more than likely with the same failures
            with at-risk/economically disadvantaged kids, because like public schools, they will be much more held
            accountable by parents who are well-educated and economically secure and not the parents who are poorly
            educated and themselves in economic distress.

          12. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            I agree. Chesterfield puts their center based gifted program at Matoaca Middle to up the test results and thus get the school accredited.

          13. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            Those are called magnet schools. That is what Louisville KY does. In one school, they had an aviation program with 15 kids. The other kids failed the test to get into any magnet high school. They were so far behind, but that was their home school so they all ended up in one place, the city’s poorest school. The magnet kids, aviation students, had no interaction with them. Not even for PE as they had already earned those credits before attending.

          14. LarrytheG Avatar

            Yes, and I see that concept as … I dunno the exact word but it borders on “misguided” in my view because on one hand we’re using extra resources for a value-added educated for kids who are already going to get a good public school education and at the same time – no such other program (that also needs resources) to focus on kids who are not going to graduate with a good education unless we intervene in K-6 and get them back on grade level or to say more realistically, to get as many as can be done, back on grade level. When I see what happens to many kids in poor performing schools,
            whether in Richmond or Petersburg or the western part of Henrico I know the poverty cycle is going to be repeated
            with those kids who will themselves grow up, have kids, and those kids will also fail and repeat the cycle.

            I think it’s great we have “magnet” schools or Governor’s schools but to have them while not having “schools” to
            address this other really serious issue…. AND we have folks (not you) who are advocating for Charter schools, with no intention that they be dedicated to ONLY at-risk kids… I wonder how serious we are about trying to address the problem.
            Year after year after year, RPS, Petersburg and Henrico are graduating kids that are doomed to a life of poverty or near poverty , unable to achieve financial independence nor be able to help their own kids escape the same fate.

            I much appreciate you being willing to discuss the issue. Thank You.

          15. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            You are welcome. Petersburg is my home and I loved teaching there. The kids don’t stand a chance.

          16. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            By the way, the magnet in Louisville was the worst school I ever visited. Period.

          17. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            You are welcome. Petersburg is my home and I loved teaching there. The kids don’t stand a chance.

          18. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            By the way, the magnet in Louisville was the worst school I ever visited. Period.

          19. LarrytheG Avatar

            geeze…

          20. LarrytheG Avatar

            geeze…

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